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Hackers Gather at HOPE Conference

Growing fears about ubiquitous surveillance are inspiring new privacy tools

2 min read

Last weekend a motley assortment of techies, artists, lockpickers, radio hams, academics, and activists descended on the Hotel Pennsylvania for the biannual Hackers On Planet Earth conference, organized by the magazine 2600. The conference is known for an anti-authoritarian attitude and an eclectic range of talks—speakers in the past have included Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Jello Biafra, co-founder of the Dead Kennedys; and Kevin Mitnick, a hacker who spent over two years on the run from the FBI. (I have presented talks at previous HOPEs too, discussing how best to talk to the press and some notable hacks of the Apollo space program.)

But, as always, the primary preoccupation of the conference was with security and privacy concerns, with amateur and professional researchers discussing vulnerabilities in UAVs, a widely deployed cable modem, and programmable logic controllers of the sort used to control prison doors. Other speakers discussed tools they had created to conceal information in files that appear to be malware (the idea being that because everyone with an email account is deluged in such spam, it’s not suspicious to receive these files, versus receiving an obviously encrypted message), high- and low-tech ways to help Middle Eastern protestors disseminate information, and how to avoid being detected in an age of electronic surveillance.

Several of the privacy talks also noted U.S. government’s evolving attitude to hackers: while once rather harsh, it’s now hard for the government to condemn privacy tools, and the people who make them, when it is celebrating dissidents who are challenging oppressive regimes around the world with the aid of those very tools. On the hacker side, while there is still a great deal of hostility and suspicion directed at the Establishment (the sentiment of many attendees could be gauged from the prominent display of posters campaigning for the release of Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking files to Wikileaks,) several speakers spoke of effective collaborations with US-CERT, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, on working with vendors to patch serious security holes they discovered in products.

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Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

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